A cult bourbon with a very high rye content in the mash, which provides a spicy kick on the palate. A very traditional old-style bourbon, not for the faint-hearted.
Old Grand Dad, the original grandson of the even older Pappy Van Winkle, an abandoned whiskey that was reared and now released again in the limelight of the modern American bourbon market. The current bottling of Old Grand Dad is a little younger than Pappy at a mere 12 years old, but the final relatively old age of the bourbon in the bottle, as well as its high rye content give it a real kick of flavour. Not just the white-hot heat of a ginger glow, but in the spice of rye grain that lingers on the tongue like battery acid. Toasty, spicy, hot and spicy. In a positively piquant and scorching manner.
A deep mahogany colour, the nose on the spirit is sharp and woody, with a feeling of thick cedar and pine, rich in the vanilla and caramel notes of ageing. This is followed by a waft of spicy rye and a touch of vanilla. The nose is rather sweet, too sweet, something of a disappointment considering the dryness of the taste on the palate. The nose is otherwise quite full and rich – it’s a shame that the palate doesn’t match up as well. At least, not at first.
All of that sweetness on the nose just explodes in the mouth as the initial flavours of spicy rye boil up. This is followed by the sweetness of caramel, but almost a burnt caramel flavour that is reminiscent of an over-heated sweet. The spices are overwhelming too – but mainly in the sense of allspice and black pepper, with a little bit of sweetness to soften it, but not a great deal. There is also a sharp hit of ethanol on the nose, which is not helped by a very thin body, which is somewhat acrid on the tongue. In short, this is a rather unpleasant and unpleasant tasting spirit. The flavour is dry and almost harsh, rather than sweet and smooth. Although the rye spice kick is pronounced, it’s not one that has an immediate appeal. The intense alcohol flavour is a major departure from the smooth, soft mouthfeel normally associated with the best bourbons, which is a bit surprising.
The finish is surprisingly long for an 80 proof bourbon, with the spicy rye flavour lingering for a long time. The taste is a little better after the first couple of sips, but considering the quality of the spirit, this is not enough to save it. As the good-quality spirit disappears, the racy taste becomes more pronounced, but not in a good way: in a harsh, discordant manner. There is not a single real taste that could be described as agreeable; it is all sweetness and spice, with absolutely no balance.
Old Grand-Dad is usually considered to be an overlooked cult classic bourbon, but that does not mean that it is not a disappointment. It is not outright nasty, but carries with it a lot of harshness and discord. It needs quite a bit of work. Not quite appalling, but not as enjoyable as it should be.
When people ask me about Old Grand Dad, I steer them towards Bulleit. Frankly, Old Grand Dad is not good enough to waste your time on. Something with this much character should have more of a complexity than a harsh, fiery spice of rye.
In the UK there is a version of this spirit bottled at a drop under 46% that is very good, which also makes Old Grand Dad a very long way from the top of the list of my favourite 80 proof bourbons.